In this crazy milieu of life there is one segment of it we call religion, and within it there is one aspect that gets bandied about as if it is a valid topic of discussion. This is the concept of respect. Theists often use it as a shield to avoid criticism. They feel that because they believe in often fantastic concepts and ideas, and combine them all together in a belief system they follow, that because of the mere fact that it is styled as religious, it should be accorded great deference, and even respect by those who don’t share those beliefs. This has been recently illustrated by the P.Z. Myers/Bill Donohue flap. If you’re not familiar with it, let me try to summarize:
In a recent post, entitled “It’s a Fracking Cracker!”, P.Z. commented about a story concerning a young man in Florida who surreptitiously absconded with a consecrated communion wafer, and let it be known that he was holding it. Perhaps abscond is not an accurate verb to describe what he did, since the host was given to him, albeit conditionally, on the assumption that he would ingest it, not take it home as a collectible. I digress.
PZ was incredulous, because in response to this “kidnapping” (sans kid) the young man received death threats from various members of the Catholic religion. In comparison, any right thinking, brain functioning human would have to say that death threats are, at least, an inappropriate response. However, the man gave the wafer back after receiving these threats. P.Z. asked his readers to score a real, consecrated communion wafer, so that he could publicly desecrate it himself, in solidarity with the idea that the wafer should be accorded no more respect than the man who took it; indeed, far less.
Enter Bill Donohue. Mr. D is the titular head, and rabid spokesman for, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which has taken up the fight against Professor Myers, issuing numerous Press Releases in an attempt to punish PZ for dissing the Body of Christ. He wants him fired from his job, at least. Now Myers is receiving death threats, and his employer has taken down the link to his blog, one of the most popular on the ‘net.
It’s all a lot of silliness about nothing, or as Myers says, a frackin’ cracker. We all know he misspelled fuckin‘.
Now, I can understand that people have strange beliefs that they find to be true, or reassuring, or at the very least, plausible. I have a few of my own that others might find outrageous, such as that the Grateful Dead is one of the greatest bands ever assembled. Those Stones freaks who disagree are not worthy of my time, but I certainly wouldn’t even think of sending death threats, or even abusive emails, to them.
Many Catholics, however, hold the idea of the transubstantiation of Jesus so seriously, that they cannot abide the thought that others find the idea, of a piece of unleavened cracker literally turning into a slice of flesh from an individual of questionable existence, patently absurd. It’s one thing to go to mass and chew up, swallow, digest (think stomach acid) and eventually defecate the body of Christ in a ritual of extreme religious significance, one that brings great, though somewhat quizzical, comfort to the individual partaking in this ritual. It’s another to expect that non-catholics should share this comfort, much less accord it a high level of respect. However, the last thing one would expect from members of a religion that preaches love for their fellow man, is abuse and death threats.
The hypocrisy here is glaring, as it is with most religious beliefs. Catholics expect that their silly fantasies should be respected, yet I would venture that they don’t realize that their very belief in their religious dogma actually disrespects most other religious dogmas. The Catholic Church, for instance, has stated that evolution is not incompatible with Catholicism, while many other religions, including Islam and most fundamentalist Protestant sects believe that it is. Would the Pope take umbrage at a fatwa being issued against him until he conforms with Islamic teaching? Catholic women don’t wear the burka, or otherwise dress in accordance with Mohammedan proscriptions. Ever been to a teen dance at the local Catholic church? Can you imagine the Islamic response to that? All of these are examples of day to day disrespect for the very beliefs of other religions. We disrespect those beliefs by our very existence and lives.
On a different level, why are any religions accorded any respect? I respect the fact that the Catholic Church is responsible, albeit indirectly, for the massive amount of literature, art and music that came out of western civilization. In that regard, I am only respectful of its many accomplishments, not its beliefs, nor any of the negative results of its overriding history (think of the name of this blog). Good can come out of nonsense, on occasion. The beliefs, however, must substantiate why they should be accorded respect, as respect must be earned. It is not automatic. The Bill Donohues of the world would have you believe that it is, but it’s not. Blind adherence to doctrine does nothing but perpetuate ignorance. Why should we respect a book, read by billions of people, that claims that the Earth is only about 6000 years old. This is not theology, it is willful ignorance, and deserves no respect. It is not disrespectful to point out errant nonsense. It is disrespectful to point out that the people who believe errant nonsense, are no better than dirt. So stealing a cracker is not disrespectful. Sodomizing a child while purporting to save his soul is.
Let’s keep things in perspective. What is needed in this world is for us to become acclimatized to more disrespect for religious belief, and less deference. Once the absurdity of most beliefs are pointed out, hopefully, the world will become more rational in its view of reality. Criticism of belief, peppered with a fair dose of skepticism, is a good thing, not bad. Stealing a communion wafer to help raise the consciousness of those who think it is sacred works no harm on the cracker, nor on the believer in the cracker, but actually advances knowledge over ignorance, by forcing people to confront the truth of their beliefs.
I note that the theft of the cracker did not result in a lighting strike from heaven. Now there’s some good evidence for the truth.
[UPDATE: Apparently one of the death threats sent to P.Z. Myers has led to the firing of the owner of the email account that it was sent from, even though the actual sender was the owner’s husband. See? Respect. Now if the threatening husband had a little respect for the First Amendment, or at the very least, wasn’t so thoroughly wrapped up in his Catholic beliefs, this would not have happened. Those beliefs caused him to get so angry, that he threatened to violate one of the Ten Commandments.
Religion engenders hypocrisy. It’s inevitable.]